John Bensalhia gives out some experience gifts to be treasured this December...
With Christmas nearly upon us, this month's draw of events and festivals has an appropriately seasonal flavour. Whether you want inspiration for gifts, ideas for recipes, or a visit that will make the kids beam with delights, I've got a sack full of happenings this December!
Siena, 1st– 2nd December 2018
The problem with the festive season is working out what to buy.
On top of that long list of presents for friends and families, there's decorations, foods, drinks, and plenty of supplies to see you through the festive period.
One good place to sort out many – or all – of your festive needs is Mercato nel Campo in Siena. It's touted as one of the largest markets of the Christmas period, featuring a bumper 150 stalls, evoking the 14thcentury 'Big Market'.
Held this year on the first two days of December, it's a good locale to stock up on all kinds of goodies. The added bonus is that you're buying from the best of local and national goodies. Choose from foods such as fresh pasta, cheeses, desserts and chocolates. Seasonal fruits and vegetables will add an extra dollop of health to your Christmas dinner. Fascinating books are available on the local history and art of the region, which, along with home-made ceramics, will make for ideal presents. Plus, special decorations are available, meaning that you can transform your home into your very own festive grotto.
On top of the stalls to keep you busy, the event also boasts live shows, guided tours and kids' activities to keep the young 'uns happy.
Intra, 1st– 23rdDecember 2018
Psst. Want to know a secret?
As well as being the finest sleigh-meister for miles around, Santa's also got a mean way with boating.
See for yourself this December, as Santa Claus Boat will arrive in the region of Intra, Verbania. Following a whistle-stop tour of the local lakeside towns in Italy, Santa will dock in the village of Intra, and at weekends throughout December, you can explore his very own boat.
But this is no ordinary vessel. It's a massive boat that you can explore, with rooms such as a bedroom, a throne room, and a special multimedia sector. Plus, Captain Santa will also be around with his elves to welcome the children and approve their special lists and letters. Opening hours are 10am to 6pm.
All aboard this special festive experience!
Hône, 2nd- 9thDecember 2018
What will grace the Christmas table this year? Here's an idea if you're in or around the village of Hône in the region of Valle d'Aosta. There's a festival that can demonstrate how to make traditional rye bread, a good accompaniment for any meal or bread to use to make those many turkey leftover sandwiches.
This special bread is marked out by a number of unique ingredients such as chestnuts, walnuts, dried figs, and sultanas. It's even been known to include the presence of chocolate shavings if you're feeling adventurous. You'll come away from this event with enough confidence to attempt to make your own version.
As well as this centrepiece, you can enjoy other great happenings such as special meals, guided tours, music performances, dancing and even a football tournament.
Basilicata, 7th December 2018 - 6thJanuary 2019
There are many great living nativity scenes in Italy. The Sassi di Matera Living Nativity Scene is a very good example, running throughout the holiday season.
About to enter its eight edition, this excellent nativity takes place in the old Sassi cave dwellings of Matera. Special events are brought to life in the main city centre by the Gruppo Storico Romano performers, charting the Annunciation, Sanhedrin, Market, Ancient Trades, Herod’s court, and finally, the Nativity.
It's worth pointing out that you'll need to book in advance, because this event proves highly popular. Sessions will be held between 7thand 9th, 15thand 16th, 22ndand 23rd, and 28thto 30thDecember, and then 4thto 6thJanuary 2019.
Molise, 24th December 2018
Warm yourself up this Christmas Eve with one of the best known fire shows in both Italy and Europe.
‘Ndocciata is held in the Isernia province, Molise each year, and gathers together a huge number of specially ndocce-shaped fans, which are then taken through a special parade through the area. Representing each of the five districts of Agnone, those in procession dress up in traditional shepherd capes, with men, women and children all taking part.
It's a fabulous way to spend Christmas Eve, whether you're taking part or standing on the sidelines feeling the warmth and enjoying the spectacle!
Genoa, 26thDecember 2018 - 6th January 2019
Oh what a circus!
Circumnavigando is the annual International Circus and Street Theatre Festival, which this year, will celebrate 18 years of age.
It's the perfect place to enjoy yourself if you're feeling a bit washed out after all the Christmas festivities. Boxing Day can be a bit of a drag, and so can the few days leading up to the return to work, so this festival guarantees a lot of fun.
The area of Genoa becomes one big circus, with events taking place in indoor locations such as theatres, as well as outdoor places such as San Lorenzo Square and The Old Port, as well as specially designated areas of history, including Palazzos Ducale and Tursi. Tightrope. Juggling. Clowns. The lot.
This year's theme revolves around GenerAction, as a means of marking the link between multiple generations of artists and also the public. There will be something for all ages, from traditional to modern entertainment. A must!
Rome, Throughout December 2018
Como's Toys City is literally the gift that keeps on giving, which is just as well, as it's 2018's special theme. There are plenty of magical experiences that your kids will remember forever. There is much to explore in Toys City, providing a treasure trove of memories.
On top of this, you've got special events within the event, including the Como Magic Light Festival, which creates a spectacular light show of festive icons and themes across the buildings of the region. Kids can enjoy a skate around the rink, while adults can hold on to the edge for dear life...
Older visitors can also sample special festive foods from local Italian producers or get some gift inspiration from local shops that sell a wealth of potential presents.
Returning to the kids, they can post their lists at Santa's very own post office and on Christmas Eve, they can speak to and receive gifts from the the man himself.
Rome, Throughout December 2018
If you haven't had enough toys this festive season, then a visit to a celebration of the company that gave you Toy Story may satisfy.
Rome's Palazzo delle Esposizioni is the location for this anniversary exhibition of Pixar. In case you didn't know, it's the company that has produced classic animated movies such as Toy Story, Searching For Nemo, Monsters & Co, and my own personal favourite, Ratatouille (Gusteau!). Visitors can come along and take a look behind the scenes. You can see special preliminary sketches, video footage and the technology that combine to create some of the best-loved animated films of the past 30 years.
The exhibition will be open throughout December and also most of January 2019, so come along and take a look. You'll definitely get a Buzz from the experience!